Why Positive affirmations make me want to puke
Speaking positively is easy when you’re feeling good about life but it’s much harder when things aren’t going your way. In this case, it can be helpful to use specific words that activate feelings of positivity and contentment such as love, peaceful or grateful. It might also be worth reflecting on the inner qualities you would like to foster in yourself or new behaviours you want to adopt such as being more compassionate or forgiving. But do these positive affirmations work?
Why Positive Affirmations make me want to puke
I remember when I first discovered the ‘power’ of positive affirmations…
I really believed that saying these words to myself over and over each day was going to propel my life forward in all the ways I had hoped. I was going to feel happier, more energised, be more kind, make more money…. you know the deal right?
But what I found when I got up each morning and stood in front of the mirror… was a miserable, burnt out, mean version of myself – every time I said a positive affirmation, at least 10 thoughts would hit me back in the face of something that I found more true (and hurtful).
The thing is, I was miserable, I was burnt out and I really wasn’t very kind to myself. SO HOW could I possibly believe the opposite? And as I kept saying these positive affirmations, day after day, really trying to feel into the emotions I wanted them to elicit – another part of me was yearning to be seen and acknowledged first.
I eventually gave up on the positive affirmations because seriously they made me want to puke.
I was so disgusted with myself for failing such a simple process.
I was frustrated because I felt stuck with who I was and I knew I wanted to change.
And I was really angry. Angry at the process but also at myself, because I realised how often I talked to myself and how awful and unkind the words were.
This anger eventually led to me finding support and tools to really see and acknowledge the anger I felt not just in that moment but in particular times over my life. I grew up thinking that it was “wrong” to be angry or feel miserable when there was no logical reason I could find in my young brain. So let’s just say I had a few things to work on in my inner world – but that’s a post for another day.
Today I want to share with you how affirming what I already believe and know to be true has helped me immensely in loving the life I have today – and HOW this is different to simply saying positive affirmations.
What are positive affirmations?
Positive affirmations in simple terms are the ‘positive phrases or statements used to challenge negative or unhelpful thoughts’. (Positive Psychology)
For instance if one found themselves saying “I’m so tired” regularly, they may choose to combat that with “I’m full of energy”. If one found themselves feeling down and miserable, they may choose to state “I am happy” or “I love my life”.
The idea behind positive affirmations is to repeat them regularly so we can change our thinking, create new neural pathways with positive statements and feelings, boost self-esteem, feel more optimistic and potentially heal our mind and body.
Why don’t positive affirmations work
There is a place for positive affirmations – but there is a difference in how we say and use them.
Doing so just because we think we “should” often comes from a very “heady” space, as opposed to saying them from a knowing and believing space – one that we can actually grasp and ground within our heart and body. The latter offers long-lasting outcomes as we gain insight and opportunity for behaviour change.
For instance take the “I’m tired” statement and let’s flip it to “I’m full of energy.”
Firstly knowing how I am feeling and what I actually want to feel is a great trait of the positive affirmation.
However, simply saying it throughout the day got me nowhere – I may have lifted myself up for a moment while remembering the statement “I’m full of energy” but not for long.
Did you know that Dr John Demartini, World-Renowned Human Behaviour Expert conducted the most thorough research project on positive thinking back in 1983?
After 10 years of attempting to be a positive thinker, he realised the more he tried to be a positive thinker, the more he felt like a failure for not feeling positive!
He purchased 300 best-selling books on having a positive mental attitude and wrote down every positive word from each book – combining to a total of 2000 words. He then decided to recite 5-6 affirmations or quotes based on these at least 108 times per day – changing them up every day over 2 years!! That means each day he was stating a positive thought between 540-648 times – what a commitment!
Not only that, but he tracked his own levels of positivity throughout the day in all areas of his life, every 4 hours for the entirety of those 2 years. This gave him measurable data to see if positive thinking actually worked.
The outcome? His positivity levels over the two years averaged an increase of 0.1-0.3 – almost zero! (You can read more in his own article ‘Positive Thinking | Breaking the Illusion’).
Affirming vs Positive Affirmations
To affirm means to “make firm in one’s mind”, to speak or say means to “utter words”.
When we affirm something it comes from within, an inner knowing and belief it is true. It’s about how we want life to be AND how we are already demonstrating it and showing committed action to it. It must be clear, meaningful and align with our highest values – otherwise the chances are, you’ll be affirming in a state of fantasy rather than anticipation.
How do we affirm what we want?
How do we shift from saying something for the sake of it – or working on a fantasy phrase, to affirming something that we know and believe to be true?
There are four major steps:
- Awareness and inquiry
- Values determination
- Find the evidence
- Affirm and take action
Step 1: Awareness and inquiry
Firstly, if there is a ‘negative’ statement you want to flip to the positive, we need to explore it and the belief behind it. Some great questions come from The Work of Byron Katie:
- Is it true? (eg. is it true that I am tired? And in my example it was. If the answer is no, just sit with that for a moment before moving on).
- How do I react, what happens when I believe it to be true? Where do I feel it in my body? (eg. I would get cranky easy, I felt depressed, heavy, I would actually stay up later. I felt it in my heart, and it was this anxious buzzy feel to it)
- Who would I be without the thought? (eg. full of energy, happy, clear-minded, excited about my life)
- What is the real truth of this belief? (This one can be tricky but you can delve deep in this handout here)- it’s about flipping the statement to the opposite or to the other and finding examples where it is more true than the original belief – eg. “I’m not tired” or “it’s only my thinking that tells me I’m tired”. So in this example – I’m not tired when I’m reading my favourite book. I’m not tired when I’m having a great time playing with my kids. I’m not tired in class.)
Secondly, we need to know what we want and why.
In the example above, what I wanted was more energy and to feel happier.
By delving into the real truth of the belief, we saw my values playing out – I have more energy and feel happier when I’m learning about myself, taking time for myself and enjoying games with my kids.
Now we look at my reality – I was working a job I hated in an industry that didn’t interest me, I was working full-time hours, I was paying someone else to play and look after my kids, and the household chores and family responsibilities filled a lot of my time.
What I wanted was more time for my kids and to understand myself.
So my affirmation could have been “I’m blessed and appreciate the energy I have each day”. We can see that this is actually believable when I’m with the kids and doing what I wanted. I did indeed have energy it was just being spent in low value areas.
Now the statement lures me in, I actually have what I wanted all along, it’s only my perception and how I use my energy that keeps me tired. Now I can take self-responsibility and figure out how I change my day-to-day to make this statement even more true.
Step 2: Values Determination
Going through a values determination process* is a really informative exercise. It shows us the things that we go after most in our life – our highest value. This is driven by the thing we perceive to be missing in our life.
In the example above, we can see that my children and understanding myself are two of my highest values and two voids at the time.
When I wasn’t making these things a priority, I lost motivation, vibrancy, discipline and love for life.
Once we know and understand our highest values, we become inspired and awaken apart of ourselves to move forward. We have motivation, energy and purpose. If we find that we are living in our lower values, it’s where we feel suppressed, lack discipline and lustre for life. It feels like life is dragging us down.
When it comes to positive affirmations, we want to be living in our highest values as it raises our emotional frequency to joy, love, gratitude. We’re naturally inspired and motivated, we are self-appreciating. We begin to see the things we have that are affirming these values.
Living in our lowest values means that we are more likely to feel trapped, have lower vitality and self-image. We become self-depreciating. We see and experience more of what we don’t want in life.
(*You can find my favourite Value Determination Process here.)
Step 3: Find the evidence
Now that we have the data of what we want and what we value, we can start to find the evidence in our life. This builds a bank of self-belief and inner knowing. We can see where what we are wanting is actually true.
Just like in the example previously, “I’m blessed and appreciate the energy I have each day” now becomes something I can appreciate within myself.
The evidence is there when I playing with my children and working on understanding myself better. The more I do these things, the more evidence I create.
Step 4: Affirm and take action
Now it’s time to affirm the things we have, we appreciate and want more momentum in.
First, create the affirmation and allow all the experiences of where those things are true, come to mind. Next we visualise the things we want clearly in our minds and affirm them (say them aloud or internally).
It’s also a matter of taking action.
This is where we have a good look at our life and see what it is demonstrating and if that is in alignment with what we truly want.
We need to build our life around our highest values – taking daily action on our highest priorities and delegating our lower value /priority actions. Otherwise we become distracted and frustrated. It keeps us further away from living a life we love. Our dreams become fantasies instead of potential realities.
When we are not living in alignment, it’s about asking ourselves:
- What do I need to do/change in order to live more in my higher values?
- What and where will I find support or guidance to do this?
- Where and how will I find the tools and resources I need?
What if it doesn’t work?
Our values may change or become even more clear and precise over our lifetime. It’s important to check in and make sure we are living to our highest values and not someone else’s.
When we really understand our values, our live’s make more sense. We see life happening for us and not to us. We release our self-judgement and focus on designing, living and affirming the life we do want, instead of getting lost and caught up in others judgements and perceptions.
Amy helps her clients move from this idea that they are broken or missing pieces of their own puzzle, to owning their story, claiming back all parts of themselves and merging together as one team to allow them to rest and be in their deepest expression.
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